This is a trip report about my last two trips up to the Incredible Hulk. Scroll down to skip the Public Service Announcement or read on for important tips for minimizing impact at the Incredible Hulk.
To future climbers of the Incredible Hulk:
I’m pretty passionate about the outdoors and one thing that is very important is stewardship. There are a limited number of places to climb and even fewer that sit in the wilderness. Over the last three season I have seen a drastic increase in traffic at the Incredible Hulk. With such an increase in traffic it is very important to respect the area and take care with our impact. Please take a second to read this thread from one of the Yosemite Climbing rangers.
It is important to respect the Incredible Hulk and make sure to use the bathroom well outside of camp and away from any water sources. Pack out all of your trash and hang your food in camp or bring a bear canister. The many rodents, mice and marmots would be more than happy to chew through your tent or pack for food.
Finally, take the time to go to Bridgeport and get a permit. Permits are for camping in the wilderness and are limited to 8 entries per day. This does not limit the total number of climbers that may be camping at the Hulk but no more than 8 people can hike in on a given day. The ranger station opens at 8am and the permits are free. Plan in advance since the permits do fill up – I saw this happen by 9am on Saturday of Labor Day weekend. Tickets are pretty pricey at $175 per person for camping without a permit.
Trip Report Starts Here!
I had won the toss. The fourth pitch of Sunspot Dihedral was mine. I had survived the trickery and pump of the third pitch and was doing even better on the fourth. Looking down from a massive jug I was happy to be far off the belay. My first five pieces had been micro nuts and one of them had already fallen out. Catching my breath, I dug my fingers into a flake on the right wall. My feet were poor and I pulled hard trying to get them established on a good edge. All of a sudden I was in the air. “Fallllling” I yelled as I tumbled downwards. My hands were still gripping the large flake and I pushed up, instinctively, shielding my face. The rock went over my head quickly accelerating away from me. John was safe at the belay, off to the side, but the trajectory passed through the first pitches of Positive Vibrations. We both screamed “rock”. I felt powerless, unable to change the flake’s course. Thirty minutes earlier or later and it would have been a different story. Luckily, the timing was right and no one was hurt.
Blood dripped from my finger as I dangled from the end of the rope. I was in shock. I realize that the Incredible Hulk is an alpine cliff, but Sunspot is a well-traveled route. A party ahead of us had just climbed the same pitch. The flake had fresh chalk. I wrapped my finger in tape and started climbing. I wanted to finish the pitch. I got up a short distance and realized I needed to come down. My finger throbbed with each move and I couldn’t fit it in fingerlocks with all the tape. In my haste I did not even check how deeply I was cut.
Back at the belay, I was more apologetic than anything else. I was unhappy, embarrassed, and did not want to be the reason to bail. The rock had sliced both my rope and finger and we cut off the last meter of rope where the core was showing. John finished the pitch and we made a quick retreat. The weather had been getting progressively worse anyways and bailing was the best option.
My second trip to the Hulk seemed to end like the first. Enjoyable climbing but no “send”. Sure, John and I had climbed Beeline the day before, but that was to get acquainted, not the main objective of the trip. Bailing off Sunspot a second time just stoked the fire for climbing at the Hulk.
Labor day weekend was just around the corner and it didn’t take much to convince Joe, Christina, and Keith to make a trip out to the Hoover Wilderness. Unlike John, it would be their first time to the Hulk and I was excited to show off this alpine paradise. With Friday night spent in Sonora Pass to acclimatize, we met in Bridgeport (to get a permit) and hiked in on Saturday at a casual pace. The weather was perfect and the eight people we passed hiking out all commented about the crowds. When we arrived there were four parties on the Hulk divided evenly divided between Sunspot and Positive Vibrations.
The afternoon warmth fueled our psyche as we made camp and hike up the final talus field. Joe and Christina headed off for Beeline while I got out the binoculars and tried to piece together a new line. When I was climbing with John I had noticed a clean looking corner that would allow for over eighty feet of stellar climbing. Little rest and lots of ambition had me heading up the pitch without lunch. I had been joking all week that we were going to the Hulk so I could throw rocks at Keith. I kept to my word but he cleverly belayed well of to the side and didn’t get hit with the falling debris. With the pitch climbed and a bolt sunk at the belay, it was time for Keith to taste the alpine granite. My lead had taken 2+ hours and the elevation and hike had lulled Keith into an afternoon siesta.
The pitch started easy and transitioned to a hand crack in the corner that thinned to off-finger laybacking and eventually fingers until it pinched out. Here I had tension traversed to the left and Keith was able to free climb this slabby section while following. These face moves were the crux of the route. Unsure of the next pitches, we retreated, rappelling 35 meters to the ground. Our impact was a single bolt, biner and some relocated rock. Perhaps next summer, with more scouting I will be able to climb the next two pitches of this line. Back at camp we ran into my friend John who had hiked up alone to shoot photos.
Sunday was the big day of the weekend and we awoke to blowing winds and new guests. It seems that I always want to do the “popular” route of the day. Two friends of John’s, Townsend and Eric, had just hiked in and were raring to do Astro-Hulk. This put two parties ahead of us and I was content to wait and climb during the warmer part of the day. By 10am, Townsend was cruising up the route and the other party had decided to wait for better weather. I got the first pitch and we did decided on a combination of blocks and swapped leads. Keith cruised the first crux pitch and the excellent stemming chimney that follows. Despite a chilly start, we warmed up once we started moving faster. We stayed one or two pitches behind Townsend and Eric and never had to share a belay – perfect!
As we climbed through the connecting pitches I was anxious and excited for new terrain. At the last familiar belay I looked left and saw where Jamie and I had branched off for the crux pitches of Tradewinds. Keith was up to lead the first 5.11 pitch and I would lead the second. The climbing became progressively harder as Keith worked up the first laybacking corner and transitioned right to the crux stemming section. The next 60 feet had few opportunities for gear and even fewer real hand holds. It was Keith’s hardest trad onsight and especially proud due to the grainy alpine granite. The final pitch was quite a contrast and replaced insecure stemming with strenuous and sustained laybacking. The geometry of the last pitch is strange and placing gear was strenuous and blind or impossible.
I laybacked, happily clipped the lone bolt and sucked hard on the thin air. We were above 10,000 feet and I had to really build up my psyched to run it out. I went for it, stopping more to breath than to rest. I made it to the ledge, well above the bolt having placed nothing else. I would have gone past the belay had I fallen… I finished the pitch, grunting through tricky sections to secure the onsight. Keith followed clean, putting in extra effort to ensure that we had a no falls day. We traversed 40 feet left to The Venturi Effect and rapped that route – 5 rappels with our two 70 meter ropes, which was awesome. For explicit Rappelling beta see the section after the last photo.
The darkness of night intensified as we got closer to the ground. I donned a headlamp on the last rappel, to be extra safe, as we simul-rapped into the void. Overall it took us about 10 hours and despite the morning wind I was able to climb the last two pitches in a t-shirt. There is still a little bit of loose rock (big blocks marked with chalk X’s) on the Astro-Hulk/ Tradewinds pitches and the final Astro-Hulk corners need more traffic to clean up. The climbing is very good and rock is quality where you pull on it. A solid link-up would be to start on Tradewinds (harder than PV) and then finish on Astro-Hulk. This keeps the difficulty around 11b and avoids the crowds of PV and Sunspot.
My obsession with the Hulk is over with for the season but I look forward to next year and finally building up enough fitness to get on The Venturi Effect. I also managed to track down a topo for Eye of the Storm and Escape from Poland, which both look very exciting. I’m still very curious about Solar Flare and Blowhard.
From the ledge, which runs across the Hulk approximately one pitch below the summit ridge, you will find two fixed nuts with slings and biners. Rap 30-35 feet to two bolts. Do a single 32+ meter rap (70m rope). From here rap with two 70m ropes skipping every other belay. I have done this twice and have yet to get the rope stuck. You can also rappel with a single 70m rope skipping the optional single bolt belay on Venturi Effect and the PV belay at the bivy ledge. I’ve done this as well. The worst pull is when you are in the chimney, P3 or P4 on PV. Also for rapping with a single 70m rope from the two bolt anchor atop pitch 2 you will need to swing climbers left to a two bolt rap station that is about 10 feet below the P1 “spike” belay on PV. This allows you to rap to the ground. It takes a 80m rope or longer to rap to the anchors atop the Power Ranger start.